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Boundless Leadership: Where do you best belong?

By definition, leadership is a lonely function. The buck stops with you. You make the tough calls, you cop the flack for failures, and with success, it is attributed to the team. It’s tough.

Lynne Strong (Larapinta)

We live in an age of the Disposable CEO. Leadership tenure is tenuous. Transparency and accountability has created extraordinary pressures on today’s leaders. Barbara Kellerman details the conundrum in her fabulous book, The End of Leadership. She contends that we need to move our focus away from ever-increasing high expectations of leaders and zero in on what it means to be a good follower. Because we expect more and more of our leaders, we are more and more critical. It has created a paradox that is stifling: be completely accountable, but don’t be the hero. Be strong and confident, but don’t be bullish or domineering. Be consultative, but be sure to remind people you’re in charge. There is no room for mis-step or mistakes. Leaders are hung out to dry if they fail to live up to the ideal. Often it comes down to a clash of personalities rather than any lack of competence.

No wonder leaders find themselves more and more isolated!

Finding a space where leaders can let their guard down, share their concerns and struggles, and be fully human, failings and triumphs alike, is critical for soul-survival.

Now that we have the core fundamentals all sorted – shelter, food, physical safety – belonging is next on our list of essentials. In leadership developmental models, showcased by the likes of Susanne Cook-Greuter, Ken Wilber, Bill Torbert and others, belonging comes early in our developmental priorities, and remains critical to our sense of safety and well-being.

And yet too little is done in organisations to create belonging. Folks are expected to show up and do their job. They need to fit in with the culture or find the door. It’s such a simple thing to create a sense of belonging: celebrate new arrivals, give them the team hat/mug/pen/mouse pad, take them to lunch, introduce people to them.

If you’re the leader, it is a core responsibility to make people feel welcome and safe, that they belong to something useful and important, that they are valued.

If you have a board to report to, the Board’s job is to make you feel supported and welcome. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. If you’re the CEO of your own business, you are at the top of the responsibility tree, and it is a lonely and drafty place.

In The Five Dysfunctions of A Team, Patrick Lencioni writes about the mistakes teams often make. One of them is to not prioritise their leadership as their primary support team, what he calls an A-Team. He does not mean that there are A-teams and B-Teams, but there are a series of teams to which you belong, and the one where you sit as an equal, a peer, ought to be your primary consideration, where you focus hard on building trust and developing relationships. This group ought to be your primary sounding board and safe space for support.

If it is not safe, or you lead that group, you need an A-Team outside of your business. Napoleon Hill wrote about in Think and Grow Rich as the power of the Mastermind. This is an independent board of advisors who’ve got your back and will give you frank and fearless advice. It’s a place where you can belong, where your membership is non-negotiable, and where you are honoured and appreciated as a human being.

This is what I strive to create in all of my programs, and what I endeavour to encourage all my leaders to do in their own teams.

When we create belonging, we establish a safe place for people to grow, flourish, to despair and fail and get back up again. If all of us did this better, we would indeed be able to harvest the talent and genius all around us, if only if we felt safe to explore its edges, boundless.

Books mentioned in this article:

Barbara Kellerman – The End of Leadership

Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of A Team

Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich

Other articles on belonging:

Brene Brown – Finding our way to true belonging

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Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to challenge limitations so they can live and lead with boundless energy, confidence, and conviction. With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published three books: Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact, Moments: Leadership when it matters most, and Loyalty: Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and create lifelong advocates. These are available here.

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